ACT ONE: (In Rehearsal)
Final rehearsals are underway for American Opera’s world premiere performance of Vittorio Bazzetti’s Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompei which has lain neglected since its composition in 1835 until it was found by the celebrated American lyric-mezzo Arden Scott in a drawer at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
Now, to celebrate her official hometown debut, Arden has proposed to American Opera a production of this long-lost – and everyone hopes – masterpiece of bel canto. The future of the struggling company, headed by founder and artistic director Winnie Flato, depends on the success of Rosa Dolorosa – just as the fate of the Grizzlies, the town’s professional football team (owned by Winnie’s husband), depends on the outcome of the Super Bowl across town the very same night as Rosa.
Arden tells the company the story of finding the manuscript and her confidence in its worth, but shares her own self-doubts that she will do it justice. She is at a crucial point in her career and her decision to sing Rosa Dolorosa will have serious consequences for her, both personal and professional. A potentially serious stage accident further rattles everyone’s nerves and a full break is called.
Eric Gold, the conductor, is put surprisingly off guard when Roane Heckle, American Opera’s stage manager, begins a flirtation with him. Baritone Wendell Swann and tenor Anthony Candolino waste no time in making sure that Winnie will remember them for future engagements at American Opera.
Taking all this in is Tatyana Bakst, a young soprano Arden discovered in Eastern Europe and immediately proposed for the second lead in Rosa Dolorosa. Eager to make her American debut at an important occasion, Tatyana misses nothing, including the proposal from Winnie’s husband that Arden sing the National Anthem before the Super Bowl kick-off next Sunday.
Arden and Winnie are enjoying a fond reminiscence of the important role each has played in the other’s life – singer and mentor – when they are interrupted by the arrival of Sid Taylor, Arden’s former boyfriend, now an admired local architect, and his little boy, Tommy, who has an important non-singing role in Rosa.
Arden and Sid are soon reminded of the passion and significance of their prior relationship, which both of them abandoned because of the conflicts of their career choices. Neither of them wants to make the same mistake again.
Returning from their break, the singers remind Winnie what busy, hectic, nomadic existences they have. They’ve even made up a game about it.
The company resumes rehearsal for Rosa Dolorosa. At a critical ensemble moment, Tommy runs on to say his all-important spoken line. Unfortunately, there is a spectacular musical crash and burn instead. Tatyana blames Tommy and berates the boy in front of the entire company. Arden comforts him. The company then rehearses the “Fountain Dance” and everything that could go wrong with it does. The rehearsal comes to a grinding halt again.
Winnie is in justifiable agony and wonders when American Opera will know if Rosa Dolorosa is a success. Only “on the night,” Arden tells Winnie. Arden lives for such moments. In the meantime, they rehearse. Tommy runs onstage again and delivers his line, this time perfectly: “Vesuvius is going to erupt!” The curtain falls.
ACT TWO: (In Performance)
Tatyana has a dazzling success singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl across town. Backstage at America Opera, her colleagues are alternately amazed and appalled as they watch the event on television.
Arden is already feeling the professional and personal impact of her decision not to have accepted the Grizzlies invitation to sing it. Tatyana’s police escort rushes her to the opera house so the premiere of Rosa Dolorosa can begin.
The first act of Rosa Dolorosa goes magnificently: scenes that were tentative in rehearsal now play without incident. Tommy delivers his line impeccably. Even the Fountain Dance goes well. The company is encouraged at how the performance is going. There is a cherry on the icing: The Grizzlies are trouncing their opponents.
Alone in her dressing room, Arden prepares for Rosa’s treacherous mad scene. Sid enters and surprises her: he’s bypassed the Super Bowl to attend her performance. He wants Arden to consider giving them a chance as a couple. This would mean both of them changing their lives dramatically, of course. Much to Arden’s relief, Roane enters and orders Sid out.
Arden and Roane have a moment together. Unlike Arden, he is one of the invisible people in the theater. He calls places for Act Two and leaves.
The ghost of Vittorio Bazzetti, composer of Rosa Dolorosa, appears to Arden. He challenges her as an artist and as a woman, daring her to make the same supreme sacrifice his heroine Rosa did. Arden begins to unravel. The separation between Arden and Rosa is becoming increasingly blurred. He thanks her for her service to his music. He knows the enormous price she has paid for this evening. He urges her to also sing the music of her time, to accept the chance to create Medea Refracted, a new and radically difficult opera composed especially for her, before a younger, more adventurous singer dares its many challenges.
The entire company is onstage when Arden enters to sing Rosa’s Mad Scene, a lamentation of sacrifice and duty that ends with a brilliantly defiant acceptance of her fate and the will of the gods. The opera ends. The performance has gone flawlessly. The exultant performers take their bows.
During the performance – via supertitles – we have followed the Super Bowl score. In a swift and sudden reversal of fortune, the Grizzlies have lost.
Arden invites the ever-optimistic Winnie to take a curtain call with her. Winnie delivers impassioned words of gratitude for the support the audience has given to her and American Opera all these many years. Her husband has assured her of his support for her beloved opera company. Arden leads the company in cheers for Winnie.
The celebration is jubilant backstage as everyone changes to get ready for the cast party. In the midst of the excitement, Arden decides to brave the Internet blogs to see what the response to Rosa Dolorosa has been. Instead, she reads that Medea Refracted has been given to Tatyana Bakst.
Tatyana arrives and explains to Arden that she meant to tell her personally. She will also sing the title role of Rosa Dolorosa in a new production in Venice. Stunned but generous, Arden offers the young soprano some advice about what may lie ahead.
Arden and Roane are alone. “Is anyone waiting for me?” she asks. “Lots of fans,” he tells her. That isn’t what she meant.
A ghost light glows on the bare stage. Sid and Tommy are waiting for her. Tommy runs off and Sid asks Arden if she has an answer for him yet. She asks for a moment by herself.
The Ghost of Vittorio Bazzetti appears to Arden and they bow respectfully to each other before he fades away. Standing alone now center stage, she takes in the vast, empty space before her.
Tommy runs in. He forgot his skateboard.
Arden follows him off.